I’m a little late to the game in putting out a few thoughts about David Ortiz’s recent announcement that he will be retiring as a player following the 2016 season with the Boston Red Sox. A lot has already been written about his impending departure and legacy but I’ll add a bit more because it’s better late than never.
After Ortiz first joined the Red Sox in 2003, my initial impressions weren’t favorable. I had picked him up on my fantasy team, as experts had crowed about his potential to hit 20 home runs as part of a potent Boston lineup. However, by the end of June, he was hitting just .254 with four home runs, and splitting time with Jeremy Giambi. Then, all of a sudden, something clicked and he went on to hit .286 with 27 home runs over his final 75 games. Needless to say, it helped catapult me to my league finals and made me an instant fan. It was also the springboard for his career that is now going into its 14th and final successful season in the Hub.
There’s little need to hash out Ortiz’s numbers. He has 503 home runs, 2,303 hits and been an integral part of three championship teams after the franchise went an agonizing 86 years without one. Without question, he’s on the Mt. Rushmore of all-time Red Sox greats. Only a vague connection to PEDs will possibly keep him out of the Hall of Fame.
While Ortiz delighted Boston fans for well over a decade, he could occasionally be a bit to take. While always seeming to be a great teammate, he also had a habit of finding the spotlight in unattractive ways like arguing over a scorer’s call or lamenting his contract status.
Ultimately, Ortiz’s positives overwhelmed any negatives. His jovial hand clapping between pitches and clutch hitting (There may be no scientific way to prove clutch play but try saying he wasn’t an absolute beast when the games meant the most) provided the kind of infectious fun that makes baseball so great. Even his controversial posturing after home runs made the game better (unless you were on the opposing team).
It wasn’t just his production that made Ortiz such a popular figure with Boston fans. He was much more relatable as an everyman than your typical modern athlete. With a moon face and a body type reminiscent to Babe Ruth, he didn’t cut the imposing figure of a chiseled Adonis. Additionally, his arrival in Boston after a failed stint as a top prospect of the Minnesota Twins gave him an air of redemption that everyone likes to see in sports and in everyday life. He did heroic things while appearing as someone you might encounter at your neighborhood bar. He is someone that even an author couldn’t make up.
2016 will be an extensive farewell tour for the man affectionately known as Big Papi. Fans and opponents will line up to heap him with praise and well wishes. Ultimately, he will be much deserving of it all and leave the Red Sox with a hole that will never be truly filled.
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